The dichotomy of the returning warrior

Bill Munsell knows all too well the struggles that come after returning from battle — he’s done it twice.

“I have to be a dad and a husband and still deal with the things I saw,” says Munsell, 54, a sergeant first class in the National Guard. That dichotomy — that there are two sides to a soldier — is integral to understanding how to help veterans, he says.

We'll be hosting a presentation April 26 in West Brookfield to help you learn more about what your community can do to understand and support veterans. Learn more here.

Munsell says there’s the warrior, the side of the soldier who has to do a job, forgetting familiar feelings. And there’s the side that has to step “outside the wire” and be a husband, a son, a sister, a mom. The biggest struggle for returning veterans, Munsell thinks, is when the warrior side emerges. “It’s fight or flight,” he says, and people have to understand that’s what a soldier is going through.

And, while he appreciates the thanks and the graciousness and the welcomes he receives pretty much daily, he scoffs that he is a hero. In fact, at his company’s recent Christmas party, he was asked to give a speech. “My soldiers know how I feel about the army,” he says, so he didn’t bother talking about that. Instead, he said, “You call us heroes but the true heroes are the supporters. They let us know there’s something worth fighting for.”

Munsell’s wife of 21 years, Jeanne, continues to amaze him with her patience and love. There are nights, he says, when she wakes up to find him across the room, talking to himself. She gets up and sits beside him until he wakes up, listens patiently, waits for him to come to terms with his memories. His daughter, Kaitlyn, now a college student, recently wrote an essay for a class in which she talked about his absences, the unknowingness of his departures — and her unbounded pride in his service. “They are the true heroes,” Bill Munsell says, “because of what they’ve given up.”

Serving his country is an honor with a simple inspiration: “I love my country and I love the people in it.”

Munsell served in Iraq from 2005 to 2007 and in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011. He still serves full-time with the National Guard, working with FEMA on homeland response to disasters.

Even though he’s been back in the U.S. for almost four years, he admits there are still struggles, like the middle-of-the-night talks and the daily memories of fallen colleagues. And people have to understand, that’s when the warrior side comes out. Things happen, things are said, things are remembered and it “brings us back to a bad place,” he says.

“It’s difficult to share those stories. We don’t know how. Sometimes we just need someone to listen — no guidance, just ears.”

That’s one of the aspects of the Brookfield Institute’s Care for the Troops program that he is most thankful for — the help soldiers can get when they’re ready. “They support soldiers and give them strength and educate them,” Munsell says. “You just let those soldiers come in and you help them.”

Those are true heroes, he says, the people who are there when you need them.

Come learn how you can support veterans and active duty military at our April 26 presentation.